What’s on your mind?

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How I learned to love crappy Facebook statuses

If you’re a regular user of Facebook, you scroll past inane statuses every day. Maybe in the last hour. It might have even been the last one you posted.

If not, you probably know the type. They usually serve no purpose but to alleviate the momentary boredom of someone who has picked up their phone or sat down at their computer. They say nothing, accomplish nothing, and nothing ever really comes of them.

So why are they there?

Recently, a Huffington Post article on this topic posited that: “A Facebook status is annoying if it primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.” It then proceeded to outline seven different ways in which one could produce such insufferable cries for attention, basically describing my entire news feed.

We’ve gotten to a point where the instant affection and gratification received through Facebook comments and ‘Likes’ have become too sweet to resist. As people explore their own social media space in their own ways, the modern Facebook status can serve a variety of purposes other than simply updating our friends and family about our lives. It can often be a cry for attention, a passive-aggressive opinion, or perhaps an attempt at ‘image crafting’, a practice where we essentially run the PR campaign of our own life stories.

As 2013 hurtles inexorably forward and we start getting our 2014 party hats ready, we are posting the minutiae of our daily lives at unprecedented levels: photographing our food to humbly fish for love hearts on Instagram (throwing off all hint of pretentiousness with an off-beat hashtag in the caption); publicly crying out for attention with an anecdotal humble-brag regarding how we’ve handled a recent crisis; or simply pretending like our mundane afternoon of waiting on hold for three hours is hilarious to anyone – as long as it’s in the form of a passive-aggressive BitStrip.

The fact that ancient peoples never had the means to communicate information to each other at the rate that we modern folks do means the Great Pyramids of Giza, Angkor Wat, Stonehenge and the other great human-built structures of the Earth become a whole lot more impressive, if you really think about it. No ancient Egyptian slave got to gripe about his team’s cinderblock being particularly heavy on social media, even to release just a little bit of stress (or maybe try to score a ‘Like’ or two). It’s probably how the ancient civilisations actually got these monuments built; because those societies weren’t full of citizens pissing about on Facebook.

Though the stream of consciousness people provide when the status bar inquires ‘What’s on your mind?’ may seem at times like a symptom of an over-indulgent, narcissistic and insecure society programmed to behave based on an ever evolving user interface powered by code, then, let me tell you – oh wait, no, that’s actually what it is. Got it in one. However, the point of this blog post is that there is real, intransient, human truth behind the daily inanity of your newsfeed.

The Great Facebook Exodus

People often talk of ‘culling’ their Facebook friends list; removing people who post terribly dreary updates on their life, or people that they no longer associate with or talk to. Some even do the ‘reverse cull’, and leave the website altogether, removing themselves from everyone else’s’ lists.

A recent SMH article explored the growing trend of teenagers leaving for other forms of social media as the user base gradually becomes older with more over-30 users logging on. Just a few days ago, I was greeted by the below survey as I signed into Facebook.

Facebook is losing users, and it knows it. As this blog so eloquently puts it: “Speaking on a stage in front of a mixed audience of family, friends, and acquaintances makes it hard for most of us to be our genuine and authentic selves.”

This survey was an attempt to get me to rate what I wanted to see, but it already eerily knew what friends I interacted with, including who I Chat with (and *gasp* Poke) the most. So I wanted to see pretty much all the survey showed me, even when it was my friends being insufferably self-indulgent. I find in a vacuum, one piece of information, like a tweet or a status, doesn’t really tell you about a person. Over a long enough timeline (no Facebook pun intended) a more complete picture starts to form.

For instance, if you Snapchat me a picture of a cup of tea, then I can pretty reasonably deduce that you are probably having a mind-numbingly boring day at work. You’re literally photographing your 3pm beverage to delude yourself into thinking that your Snapchat friends are going to want to see this slice of your day, because well, there’s probably nothing else to do.

But despite that Snap setting me back 10 seconds of my precious time (or less, depending on how long you’ve set it to), I like there is an inherent value in people openly volunteering to share this minute slice of their life with me, whether it be a Snap or a status or a Tweet or a text. It may be narcissistic, sure (‘Look at what a great/shit life I’m having!’) but it often contains deeper meaning about a person than they may have intended.

A window to your social circle’s mind

Status exclaiming how excited for a particular event you are (“I’m going to Stereosonic in 4 days!”) Like. Scroll down.

Status about the daily activities and momentous epiphanies a person’s child has. Usually a pretty generic epiphany that most people have. (“Little Billy worked out the fire was hot today! Kids, am I right!”) Every twenty minutes. Usually accompanied with pictures. Like. Scroll down.

Status checking in at a swanky café in town with friends. (‘Super cute dinner date at the Ivy!’) Like. Scroll down.

Status about a political figure, artist or other such celebrity. Particularly if they died and their movies/music etc. were universally cool and liked. (“RIP Lou Reed. #notsuchaperfectday”) Like. Scroll down.

Or, my personal favourite, the ‘indignant open letter’ status, addressed to someone that is never going to read it. (“Dear Arsehole who just splashed my new outfit with muddy water by driving through that puddle – thanks for ruining my job interview.”)

Technophobes often exclaim that this addiction to updating the world on the status of our lives is going to lead to the downfall of civilisation. You only have to walk into a nightclub (a place people ostensibly go to have fun and be social with each other) and gaze around at the throng of makeup-swathed faces being illuminated by the soft light of their smartphones amongst the din, to admit that there perhaps may be merit to this argument.

Digital ‘Likes’ are validation in its purest form. I know I love receiving them. They, retweets, saved snapchats, and polite comments on my Facebook status provide the self-esteem nourishment no parent could hope to provide. (Sorry Mum. Raising and feeding me for 18 years was pretty swell too.) As I have matured along with social media, however, and seen how others use it to connect with the social universe around them, I have come to understand how all the various platforms to share your voice come with one striking similarity: from your perspective, YOU are always at the centre of every interaction. Just like life. And like life, these sites come with a confirmation bias. We present ourselves in the manner in which we see ourselves, and as such getting digitally ‘rewarded’ for being us encourages these behaviours, in turn encouraging us to share more and more with one another.

In our brave new world, we all tend to drown our minds – emotions, thoughts, worries, little wins, conversations we had or want to have and much more – we drown all of it in manufactured emotions (social media, games, TV) which contain interesting, and valuable, but ultimately unnecessary information. The human connection, the stuff behind the status, is still important. It is a human typing a way at those keys, or snapping away at that camera. A fragile, complex, multi-faceted individual human with an almost infinite spectrum of thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. We all wear masks, and social media is just our digital mask — a self-edited life story.

This blog is not meant to discount or discourage ‘true’ human interaction. When you are physically present with another person, it requires an immediacy of thought or action that communication through Facebook etc. filters out (even though people can see when you’ve ‘seen’ a chat message now). Human contact, even if being in a room with someone requires body language and tonality, even if it is harder to engage all 5 of your reflexive senses at once, is still a billion times better than the detachedness of modern social media communication. It still is. It might not seem like it, but it is. In our new world of millions of light-speed communication connections flying around, try to remember that beneath the inanity, there lies a person who, much like yourself, is trying to navigate around this complex three-dimensional universe full of people and passions and ideals without going insane. And, well, if that doesn’t deserve a ‘Like’, then I don’t know what does.

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About

Will is a former News LTD journalist who now teaches English, Media and Drama in NSW secondary schools.

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